Heart-lung Transplant Inspires Art, Valentines

Kathleen Sheffer avatar

by Kathleen Sheffer |

Share this article:

Share article via email

The night before my heart-lung transplant, I was in my high school art studio working on an oil painting. I had started painting to pass the time while waiting for the call, and I returned to the comfort of Mr. Miller’s classroom and its familiar scent of dry clay and paint thinner. Later that night, I felt compelled to make more art at home. I was up past midnight drawing this cartoon version of my organs welcoming a new heart and lungs. My call for transplant came at 8 a.m. the next morning.

(Illustration by Kathleen Sheffer)

With this introduction to my surgery, it seems fitting that my heart-lung transplant should continue to inspire additional art pieces.

Join the Pulmonary Hypertension News forums and be part of the conversation about Lung Transplantation.

One of my biggest emotions after surgery was grief over losing the heart and lungs I was born with. They were failing and killing me, so that sounds a bit insane. But my organs kept me alive for 23 years, making me, well, fairly attached to them. For a month I worked to coordinate cremation of my organs. My friend and blacksmith, Monica Coyne, offered to forge a decorative box to inter the cremains. Because of the chemicals researchers used to preserve my organs in the pathology lab, the crematorium I contacted considered them “medical waste.” This meant they would have to incinerate the remains at temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, effectively obliterating them. In the end, Monica made me a beautiful piece of solid wrought iron with my birthday and my transplant date engraved on two of the four sides.

Memorial piece in iron by Monica Coyne. (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)

My dear friends who are both artists and pulmonary hypertension (PH) patients sent me their own creations: Dani Epstein made me a silver brooch, an abstract rendering of a heart and lungs.

Kathleen Sheffer wearing brooch made by Dani Epstein. (Photo by Monica Sheffer)

Kendra Meneghetti embroidered this outline of a heart and lungs surrounded by blooms.

Embroidery hoop by Kendra Meneghetti. (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)

I introduced myself to Dr. Rana Awdish after listening to her give a keynote presentation at the 2018 PH Association Conference. Dr. Awdish is the director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and a critical care physician. Additionally, she is the author of “In Shock,” a patient herself, a mother, and an artist. Her latest series of paintings are particularly special to me, and I’ve been lucky enough to receive prints of her work.


For my first Valentine’s Day with my second heart, I commissioned my friend, Kayla Gloisten, to illustrate an image of my heart. Researchers in Stanford’s pathology lab photographed my heart immediately after it came out of my chest. They were kind enough to send me labeled photos of my heart from different angles. I think the images are super cool, but they might be a tad unsettling to people more sensitive to “blood and guts.” Kayla’s illustration is beautiful and colorful, and just gory enough to make me giggle thinking about the mail people who shuttled Valentine’s postcards with the image all over the country.

Kathleen’s sick heart after removal during transplant surgery. (Illustration by Kayla Gloisten)

Dropping postcards in a mailbox, February 2017. (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)

This year, I commissioned Rachel Wadlow to create an abstract painting based on those same gory images. She sent me the digital version this week and I’m thrilled to share it with you here. 

(Painting by Rachel Wadlow)

The creative ways I’ve been able to commemorate my organs, old and new, are far better than what I initially hoped to preserve. Sure, I still think it would have been a great stunt to give my (as yet imaginary) future husband pieces of my heart. But filling my home with beautiful heart-related art pieces is truly special.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Christine Lynch avatar

Christine Lynch

What a beautiful way to celebrate your body. Thank you for sharing with us.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.

A Conversation With Rare Disease Advocates